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By James L. Dickey

Moth-force a small town always has,   


          Given the night.


                                                What field-forms can be,

         Outlying the small civic light-decisions over

               A man walking near home?

                                                                         Men are not where he is   

      Exactly now, but they are around him    around him like the strength


Of fields.    The solar system floats on

    Above him in town-moths.

                                                         Tell me, train-sound,

    With all your long-lost grief,

                                                         what I can give.   

    Dear Lord of all the fields

                                                         what am I going to do?

                                        Street-lights, blue-force and frail

As the homes of men, tell me how to do it    how

    To withdraw    how to penetrate and find the source   

      Of the power you always had

                                                            light as a moth, and rising

       With the level and moonlit expansion

    Of the fields around, and the sleep of hoping men.


       You?    I?    What difference is there?    We can all be saved


       By a secret blooming. Now as I walk

The night    and you walk with me    we know simplicity   

   Is close to the source that sleeping men

       Search for in their home-deep beds.

       We know that the sun is away    we know that the sun can be conquered   

   By moths, in blue home-town air.

          The stars splinter, pointed and wild. The dead lie under

The pastures.    They look on and help.    Tell me, freight-train,

                            When there is no one else

   To hear. Tell me in a voice the sea

         Would have, if it had not a better one: as it lifts,

          Hundreds of miles away, its fumbling, deep-structured roar

               Like the profound, unstoppable craving

            Of nations for their wish.

                                                                    Hunger, time and the moon:


         The moon lying on the brain

                                                                    as on the excited sea    as on

          The strength of fields. Lord, let me shake   

         With purpose.    Wild hope can always spring   

         From tended strength.    Everything is in that.

            That and nothing but kindness.    More kindness, dear Lord

Of the renewing green.    That is where it all has to start:

         With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less

             Than save every sleeping one

             And night-walking one


         Of us.

                         My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.


James Dickey, “The Strength of Fields” from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press, www.wesleyan.edu/wespress.

Source: James Dickey: The Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1998)

Poet Bio

Although he considered himself first and foremost a poet, James Dickey is best known for his nightmarish 1970 novel Deliverance, made into a popular film. Born in Georgia, he spent most of his life in the South, working first in advertising and then, following the success of his first books of poetry, as a creative writing professor. His book Buckdancer’s Choice, which featured harrowing poems about his experience as a bomber pilot in WWII and the Korean War, won the 1965 National Book Award. In 1977 Dickey delivered a poem at Jimmy Carter’s inauguration gala.

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